Your Criminal Law Questions Answered by Our Ann Arbor Defense Attorney
As an Ann Arbor criminal defense lawyer I’m often asked common questions from potential clients. I’ll try to answer some of those questions in a way that's easy to understand.
The Whole Case Seems Pretty Cut and Dry, Why Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Many people call me and say that what I do seems cut and dry, so why do they need a lawyer at all? When I speak with potential clients, I explain the court process and the law in the most straightforward manner possible.
I do this for two reasons. First, we don’t have all day to talk. Explaining every little thing a criminal defense lawyer must do would be tedious. Second, going over over every nuance is not what the potential client really needs to hear at this stage. Down the road there will be a time to go into great detail, but the first phone call will not be that time. This straightforward manner of explanation leaves the potential client feeling as if the process is very simple and there’s no need for a lawyer. The reality is nothing could be further than the truth.
Take the drunk driving charge of Operating While Intoxicated. Once a lawyer is retained on an OWI case, there are many little things that must be done immediately. The lawyer must draft Freedom of Information Act requests – often to a police agency and the Michigan State Police. Discovery requests must be sent to the prosecution. The lawyer must have the knowledge and expertise to draft these correctly and file them in the correct manner.
Also, the lawyer may have to file an MCR 2.610 objection to the introduction of a forensic test if there has been a blood draw. Potential clients won’t learn about this in the initial phone call, but this is something the criminal defense attorney must do in an OWI case with a blood draw.
Once we get the videos of the arrest we must evaluate the case. We must determine if the traffic stop is valid. This requires knowledge of the traffic violation laws. Then we must see if the officer performed field sobriety tests correctly. This requires knowledge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration manuals.
We will have studied the background and scientific testing for the Field Sobriety tests. Learning the two areas mentioned in just this paragraph requires dozens and dozens if not hundreds of hours of learning. This is a small fraction of what criminal defense lawyer puts into the beginning stages of representation on a DUI or OWI case. Does it still seem cut and dry?
It’s not cut and dry. However, the process may seem cut and dry during the first phone call to the attorney’s office. As the process moves forward you will just how what criminal defense attorneys do (if done properly of course) is complicated and valuable.
I Plead Guilty at Court a Few Days Ago, What Can I Do?
I get this call a lot. The best thing would have been to call me before you plead guilty. Many people plead guilty and then regret it the next day, realizing they may not have exercised their rights. Sometimes things at court are so rushed you may not understand what happened.
When you plead guilty, the judge will inform you of your right to a trial, either by judge or jury, your right to have a lawyer represent you, and your right to be on bond awaiting trial. These are all important rights that you give up once you plead guilty.
The avenue for relief is a Motion to Withdraw a Guilty Plea. These are difficult motions to succeed on. There are several criminal defense lawyers out there who specialize in these motions, and I usually refer the potential client to these lawyers.
What Happens if I Just Go in and Plead Guilty?
Except under very limited and exceptional circumstances, I would never recommend a defendant in a criminal case just show up to court and plead guilty. I understand what people are asking when they pose this question, though. They’re asking if having a lawyer will make a difference.
Not to sound self-serving, but yes a lawyer will make a difference. If you cannot afford a lawyer, then you should still see if you can speak with the public defender’s officer or receive a court appointed attorney.
An Ann Arbor criminal defense attorney will be able to look over your case and determine potential challenges. Perhaps you do not need to plead guilty at all. Perhaps you didn’t even commit a crime. Fight the urge to simply walk in and “get it over with.”
A conviction may have consequences for you that could last years. Once you’re convicted, you can expunge most crimes but that is not until 5 years after your sentence ends, so more likely at least 6 years.
Any traffic related offense can never be expunged. A conviction can impact job opportunities and the ability to get a professional license. Slow down before pleading guilty and speak with an attorney about your options and the consequences of each option. Information is key. The last thing you want to do is simply walk into court and plead guilty.
Can You Get Me an Easy Plea Bargain?
I don’t promise potential clients any particular result. In fact, no criminal defense should promise any result before the case has really begun. My standard practice is to let the potential client know what type of plea bargains might be available in the situation or what outside-the-box plea bargains there may be to work for.
I do not lead clients into believing that we will walk into court with an operating while intoxicated charge and walk out with an impeding traffic civil infraction. I want potential clients to know what to expect. This does not mean that we won’t go for that sweet deal. We can and certainly will strive to get a result above and beyond that standard deal. We will develop a plan of action to accomplish that. However, I don’t want to mislead a person into thinking the situation is so simply that we’ll just get three assault charges dismissed in exchange for some traffic tickets. It’s not that simple.
Can You Get My Case Dismissed?
Your case is not simply going to be dismissed because we walk into court and ask the prosecutor to dismiss the case. Why would the prosecutor have gone to the work of filing charges if they were just going to be dismissed at the first court date?
Similarly, you’re probably not going to get an above-standard deal without working for it either. To obtain a dismissal, it is likely that we will have to fight the case against you. This means looking at the case for all possible attacks, weak points of evidence, and areas to exploit. It will be necessary to fight the case to get a good deal.
Often potential clients do not want to hear that we must fight the criminal case in order to get a good result. The belief is that they are a good person, have never been in trouble, they are not in court for anything bad, and therefore the sweet deal should just be handed. I don’t disagree. I do think and want you to get a great deal or get your case dismissed. But people need to know that this requires work, and sometimes that work means proactively fighting the case. If everyone just went to court and got sweet deals then people wouldn’t even be charged with crimes in the first place.
Why Should I Hire a Defense Attorney Right Away When I’ve Been Charged With a Crime?
Again, not to be self-serving, but hire an attorney right away, and hire a criminal defense attorney – not someone who dabbles in criminal defense or practices a completely different field of law but wants a quick pay day.
Anyways, there are several advantages to hiring an attorney right away. First, the more time the better. The more your attorney works on the case the better result there will be. An attorney can get to work right away undertaking investigations, filing freedom of information requests, and researching the law. Many courts now impose timelines designed to speed up their docket with the unintended (or cynically, probably intended effect of making criminal defense attorneys jobs harder). An attorney who gets going right away can work to stay ahead of the curve to get as much possible work on the case before trial.
Second, your memory is fresh. You would think that an incident leading to an arrest and a life-altering charge would stand out in your memory. You actually might be wrong. Many people are not charged with a crime until months and months after an arrest. Then, there’s more months before a case goes to trial or may get to a substantive part of the case. People often forget details. And the devil is in the details for criminal cases. Obtaining representation sooner may help sharpen your focus to capture all those necessary details for the future.
Why Would I Need to Fight My Case?
Many people are surprise or even shocked to learn they must proactively fight the case. When you walk into Court for the first time, the prosecutor has no reason to simply dismiss the case, even when the case against you is weak. The prosecutor has no incentive to at that point. Think about it like this – the prosecutor just went to the trouble of filing charges against you, then you walk into court for the first time.
There is literally no way the prosecutor at that point in time can lose the case. The prosecutor is also no under obligation at that first court date to perform any more work for the case. The criminal charges are filed and the prosecutor can just sit back and wait for the defense attorney to do something. Compounding the problem is that many prosecutors at court do not have the discretion to dismiss the charges or offer a non-standard plea deal.
In addition, all prosecutors know that most cases plea out. Even if the defense lawyer talks tough that really doesn’t mean anything because it’s just all talk – these prosecutors know that most defense attorneys will simply tell the client to plead.
The criminal defense lawyer must do something to make it possible for the prosecutor to lose the case. The criminal defense lawyer must change this dynamic that encourages the prosecutor’s complacency. This is done by challenging the case, which means filing a motion or scheduling the case for trial. Once you’ve filed a motion or set the case for trial then everything changes. Because now the prosecutor can lose the case. The prosecutor will also need to go through a lot of work to prosecute the case. It’s possible now the prosecutor will listen a little more closely to the defense attorney’s settlement negotiations.
There’s no guarantee the prosecutor will automatically dismiss the case simply because you’ve filed a motion. In fact, the same prosecutor may still have his or hands tied because of an office policy and is unable to offer any deal other than the standard deal. The criminal defense attorney can then simply follow through on the challenge – in an attempt to win the case or hurt the prosecution’s case. You cannot win the case unless you have set the case up for the possibility of winning. Don't leave your case up to fate. Contact our Ann Arbor defense law firm today.